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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Binding attributed to Sultan Muhammad, Persian (16th century)
Illustrated Manuscript of a Divan of Hafiz
Work Type
c. 1530
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran, Tabriz
Safavid period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper; binding: lacquer on paper with leather
29.21 x 19.05 x 3.5 cm (11 1/2 x 7 3/16 x 1 3/8 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Arthur Sambon, Paris (by 1914), sold; to Louis Cartier Collection, Paris, (1914-1958), sold; to Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Cary Welch, Jr., Warner, NH, (1958-1964), gift; to Fogg Art Museum.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stuart C. Welch, Jr.
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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The enormous wealth and attention directed to the arts of the book in sixteenth-century Iran can be seen in this elaborate book binding and the elaborate illustrated pages, which were removed long ago from its text block. A heightened interest in illustrations, particularly of poetic texts, drove the development of a distinctive art form popularly known as Persian miniature painting. In Islamic books, figural representation had usually been confined to the inside of a manuscript, where it could be enjoyed privately. As this beautiful book cover demonstrates, artists in the early Safavid period pushed figural imagery to the outside as well.

Here Safavid courtiers—recognizable by the red baton of their turbans—enjoy refreshments, while winged angels carry covered trays. The cover is executed in a medium known as Persian lacquer, an extension of the miniature-painting technique of opaque watercolor and gold on a paper substrate. The painted cover was completed with a coating of clear lacquer.

This manuscript and the lacquer binding was created in the early sixteenth century for the Safavid prince and bibliophile Sam Mirza, brother of Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524–76), the dynasty’s second ruler.

Publication History

  • Laurence Binyon and J. V. S. Wilkinson, Persian Miniature Painting: Including a Critical and Descriptive Catalogue of the Miniatures Exhibited at Burlington House, January-March, 1931, exh. cat., Oxford University Press (NY) and Oxford University Press (UK) (London, England, 1933), page 128
  • Arthur Upham Pope and Phyllis Ackerman, A Survey of Persian Art From Prehistoric Times to the Present, Soroush Press (Tehran, Iran, 1977), page 972, 977
  • Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), page 83/figure 88
  • Studies In Islamic and Later Indian Art From the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2002), page 11 & 12/figure 3 & 4
  • Jon Thompson, ed., Hunt for Paradise: Court Arts of Iran, 1501 - 1576, exh. cat., Skira (New York, 2003), p 185, fig 7.1
  • Robert Hillenbrand and Firuza Abdullaeva, ed., Ferdowsi, the Mongols and the History of Iran: Art, Literature and Culture from Early Islam to Qajar Persia. Studies in Honor of Charles Melville., I. B. Tauris (London, 2013), p. 337; plate 26
  • Selseleh: Artistic Lineages in Persian Painting, Hadeeth ad-Dar (Kuwait, 2014), Vol. 28, pp. 12-17, fig. 1
  • Cartier and Islamic Art: In Search of Modernity (London, Thames & Hudson, 2021)., p. 71, ill.; p. 240, ill.; pp. 292-293, no. 4a

Exhibition History

  • The Heavenly Court: Persian Poetry and Painting, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 02/09/1985 - 03/31/1985
  • Early Safavid Painting 1501 - 1576, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 02/21/1987 - 04/12/1987
  • Geometry of the Spirit: Islamic Illumination and Calligraphy, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 04/30/1988 - 06/26/1988
  • Paintings for Princes: The Art of the Book in Islam, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/27/1990 - 03/25/1990
  • Eyes to the East: Indian, Persian, and Turkish Art Given by Harvard Graduates, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/22/1990 - 11/25/1990
  • Calligraphy and the Arts of the Book, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/25/1993 - 01/30/1994
  • 32Q: 2550 Islamic, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 05/14/2015
  • Cartier and Islamic Art: In Search of Modernity, Musée des Arts Decoratifs, 10/21/2021 - 02/20/2022

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Related Works

Verification Level

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